Back in January, the U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve (the “Federal Reserve”) released its long-awaited discussion paper, “Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation” (the “Report”), beginning a public dialogue about central bank digital currencies (“CBDCs”) and weighing the merits of a U.S. CBDC.
For the purposes of the Report, a CBDC is defined as a “digital liability of a central bank that is widely available to the general public” and further, a “digital form of paper money.” In this respect, a CBDC is like a stablecoin because a CBDC also seeks to maintain a stable value and become an alternate payment mechanism that can be used to facilitate trading and lending, lessen the friction surrounding cross-border payments, and help foster more financial inclusion. However, unlike a stablecoin backed by reference assets like a national currency, commodities, or another digital asset, a U.S. CBDC (i.e., a digital dollar) would be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States in the same way as a physical dollar and, as described in the Report, would be digital money that is “free from credit risk and liquidity risk.” Thus, as discussed in our recent post on stablecoins, a CBDC enjoys many of the same benefits as stablecoins and, as described in the Report, “could spur innovation by banks and other actors and would be a safer deposit substitute than many other products, including stablecoins and other types of nonbank money.” Still, the Report suggests that CBDCs may bring their own risks to the safety and stability of the monetary system, particularly during times of financial stress, and otherwise affect the Fed’s ability to implement monetary policy. Plus, there is the added complexity of harnessing and updating the government’s infrastructure to launch such a digital dollar. On the whole, the Report cautions that a CBDC “could fundamentally change the structure of the U.S. financial system.”